- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Major League Baseball’s Advanced Media subsidiary yesterday purchased Tickets.com, one of the country’s largest ticket distributors, in a $66 million deal that marks the first acquisition of a publicly traded company by a professional sports league.

The deal is designed to help MLB become more active in selling tickets for both major and minor league games through its Web site, MLB.com, and establish ticket sales through wireless devices like cell phones and personal digital assistants.

“We want to make the process of getting to our ballparks as efficient and thoughtful as possible,” said Bob Bowman, president and chief executive of MLB Advanced Media. “We’re very excited about what this means for us. Ticketing is the mother’s milk of baseball.”

Though MLB in recent years has grown more successful in landing high-profile and high-dollar sponsorship deals and improving TV ratings, the sport remains dependent foremost on gate attendance for revenue. MLB drew 73 million fans to its ballparks last year, an all-time record, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig predicts a further increase this year. The Washington Nationals already are well on track to beat the 2004 attendance of its previous incarnation, the Montreal Expos, by more than 1.5 million.

MLB has commitments in place to buy 82 percent of Tickets.com stock and is making a tender offer for the other 18 percent of $1.10 a share.

Operationally, Tickets.com will remain in business under that company name and will stay active in selling tickets to other pro sports, the Olympics and a variety of performing arts. Individual MLB teams that have ticketing contracts with rival companies like Ticketmaster and Paciolan, a group of clubs that includes the Nationals, will be able to maintain those pacts and renew them if desired.

Tickets.com currently provides ticket distribution for 11 MLB teams, most notably the ultra-popular Boston Red Sox, who typically sell more than 90 percent of their available seats every season.

“We’re not a one-note melody,” said Ron Bension, chief executive of Tickets.com. “The concerts, the performing arts. Those are important accounts to us and will continue to be.”

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